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Executive of the Week: Columbia Records Senior VP Sales Joe Gallo

With Lil Nas X, BTS and The Kid LAROI landing Columbia five of the top 10 on the Hot 100, senior vp sales Joe Gallo is Billboard's Executive of the Week.

Over the past few years, Columbia Records’ artists have gotten used to hanging out in the top region of the Billboard charts. But this week, they’ve taken it to a new level: Columbia’s roster accounts for five out of the top 10 positions on the Hot 100, with BTS’ “Butter” (No. 1), Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” (No. 2), The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” (No. 3), Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” (No. 8) and BTS’ “Permission To Dance” (No. 9) locking down positions in the upper echelons of the singles chart. With that, Columbia joins Republic, UMe and Interscope as the only labels to have controlled that much of the top 10 in the past decade.

Even further, Columbia has now had the No. 1 Hot 100 song for 46 weeks since Lil Nas X’s debut single “Old Town Road” first stormed to No. 1 in April 2019, the most of any label, while Columbia has sat atop the chart for nearly half the year 2021 — 15 of 32 weeks, to be exact, while The Kid LAROI’s F**k Love album is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week. And all that success has earned Columbia’s senior vp sales Joe Gallo the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Having had a key role in not just Columbia’s current top 10 singles and albums, but also releases by Polo G, Lil Tjay, Tyler, the Creator and Harry Styles, Gallo has been on a roll of late. Here, the exec talks about the label’s recent successes, the building-album strategy that got LAROI’s album to No. 1 and how the explosive growth of vinyl has given him even more ways to work Columbia’s artist roster. “It is an exciting time in commerce, and we’re seeing new artists succeed in a physical space in a way many had thought was over,” he says.

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This week, Columbia Records has five songs in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

Seeing our artists achieve this goal is remarkable. Executing successful Hot 100 campaigns requires exceptional music, patience, strategy and confident decision making. One needs to know the makings of the chart and the opportunity each single has to perform. There are a lot of factors at play — audio and video streaming, track sales and radio audience. Every team at the label plays a role as the collective point total ultimately determines each track’s fate. Timing is a major factor. It is critical to understand the point makeup of any track sitting in there, how it performed to get to its current position and which buttons to push to maximize each track’s potential. You also need to know who you are up against — always pay attention to the competition. Victory loves preparation.

The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” also climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart, his first No. 1 there. How did you market this song globally?

From the commercial side, “STAY” was our focus record leading into the final chapter of F**K LOVE. Having the complement of Justin Bieber on the record opened the door for even further opportunity and achievement. Coming off of “Without You,” we were extremely confident in “Stay” as the single and the song was immediately a massive priority for Sony globally. Our DSP partners have been incredible each step of the way. They recognized his growth and saw the fan response to the record. Having their support behind a track like this helped achieve a global No. 1.

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Speaking of The Kid LAROI, his album F**k Love climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 after multiple reissues that expanded the original album several times a year after its original release. Why did you choose that building strategy for this album, and how has it paid off for his career?

Columbia signed LAROI when he was 15 and believed in him from the onset. Our chairman & CEO Ron Perry signed him personally and continuously emphasized the importance of this project. Early on, LAROI was creating music that showed signs that we were looking for, both commercially and culturally. When an album proposition became a reality, we didn’t simply focus on its release and the following months, but looked further out. LAROI created a narrative that allowed us to think longterm.

F**K LOVE is LAROI’s story, that perfectly pairs with a commercial plan. Feed the fans, identify the record to take that next step and build everything around it. This release strategy maximized every piece of content we had at our disposal. Each release of F**CK LOVE allowed us to expose LAROI to a larger audience. New and old fans would not only consume the new content, but re-engage with the existing material. All tides rise with each deluxe and the album is now certified platinum. We also partnered with Spotify on their RADAR campaign, helping further brand LAROI as that next artist you need to check out. It was very impactful and came at the perfect time as “WITHOUT YOU” was taking off.

For the last several years, the growth in streaming has been the big story in the music business. But in the first half of the year, total physical album sales were up 37.5%, with vinyl up 108.2%. How have you guys been able to capitalize on that — and what has it allowed you to do?

Fans want something tangible, something collectible. Vinyl offers that to a variety of music lovers. To some it is the analog audio, to others it is something special to showcase in their home. Limited-edition packaging and color variants allow us to further market the product to the artist fan bases. Columbia Records has not only been home to artists that perform at a high level in the streaming era, but those that have built remarkable fan bases over decades. To be able to recently craft commercial campaigns for artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, AC/DC and so many more is something I do not take for granted. Having continued opportunity and demand in the physical space, specifically with vinyl, allows us to push the envelope that much further. It is an exciting time in commerce, and we’re seeing new artists succeed in a physical space in a way many had thought was over.

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BTS has one of the most dedicated fan bases in music. How have you been able to tap into that excitement and passion to help the group top the Hot 100 five times, four of which have been debuts?

We’ve been working with BTS and Big Hit/HYBE since 2018 and these past few years have been special. No other real way to phrase it. We are always pushing to win at the highest level for them. Their music connects on a global scale and the visuals are truly compelling. Of course, THE ARMY has played a significant role in these achievements. They are so dedicated to BTS, and it’s incredible to watch how much they do for the group. We go to battle for them every week for the top of the Hot 100 chart.

What are some of the more creative single and albums campaigns you’ve been a part of during your career that have influenced how you approach your job now?

Looking back over the past eight years or so, it’s hard to pick and choose favorites. I love this job, the label and our artists, and I find myself inspired to match the creative coming our way with the appropriate commercial lens. You never want to say, “No, that won’t work.” You always want to find a way to have the commerce meet the art.

This past year, it has been fascinating to watch what comes from Tyler, The Creator and Lil Nas X. Two very different artists, but two incredibly creative minds. I’m very fortunate to have played a role in sharing their art with the masses. With Tyler, his art leads the conversation. He’s built an exceedingly loyal fan base that is always begging for more. We craft our commerce lane around what works for his vision. To have had the opportunity to work on multiple albums from Tyler over the years, it is amazing to see how he has grown each step of the way. The past two No. 1 albums were an incredible team achievement.

With Lil Nas X, you are always wondering what he is going to think of and deliver next. He’s so tapped into culture, and he is consistently pushing every boundary possible. His team gives us the tools to work with our partners at the highest level and stay competitive each step of the way. He’s also devoted to seeing his work succeed; his job does not end when he delivers the record.